The concept of point of view seems familiar enough — after all, everyone seems to have one. But as a key technique of literary experimentation and innovation, point of view becomes something radically unfamiliar. In this course we will draw on Francophone, Anglophone and Persian literary modernisms in order to study — and develop our own arguments about — the different ways author structure point of view. What kinds of possibilities and limitations are associated with the first-person point of view, or the third-person point of view? Is there such a thing as a collective point of view? What does the child’s point of view offer by way of social critique and how might it be tied to questions of form, surrealist or otherwise? How are points of view related to the human bodies from which they seem to emanate? Is there such a thing as a disembodied point of view? We will study fiction, poetry, and film in order to develop a sharp set of critical tools for thinking through such problems of perspective and how they relate to race, gender, and power. Beginning with Victor Hugo’s The Last Day of a Condemned Man and moving to such twentieth century artists as Simin Daneshvar, Toni Morrison and Ousmane Sembène, we will explore some of the challenges that social conditions impose on point of view, and on the very concept of point of view. We will also explore some philosophical and literary traditions which have theorized about point of view as a problem of consciousness, fiction, or both. Point of view helps us think about what we know, but also the conditions under which we know it.
Finally, the goal of this Reading and Composition course is to develop your critical point of view as an academic writer. Through frequent practice — and, crucially, revision — we will experience how writing extends our ability to think. Drawing on supplementary materials including handouts on logic and other tools of critical thinking, we will devote one class period per week to a writing workshop where we work collaboratively.
André Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism
Simin Daneshvar, “Bazaar Vakil” and “A Place Like Heaven”; (from the collection Sutra)
Victor Hugo, The Last Day of a Condemned Man
Toni Morrison, Jazz
Virginia Woolf The Waves
Abbas Kiarostami, Where is the Friends Home?
Ousmane Sembène, Black Girl (La Noire de…)
Philosophical and critical essays (in a Course Reader) will include:
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (excerpts on Personal Identity)
William James, “The Stream of Consciousness”
W.E.B Du Bois, excerpts from The Souls of Black Folk
Wayne Booth, “Distance and Point of View”
Tom Nagel, “What is it Like to be a Bat?”
Course requirements: active class participation, one midterm essay and one final research
essay (both of which will be submitted in the form of two separate drafts) and two collaborative